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 Loose Lips 

January 14, 2003

“Loose lips sink ships,” said a ubiquitous World War II slogan. It meant that Americans should be guarded in their speech, lest the ubiquitous Enemy overhear some conversational nugget that would enable him to kill America’s fighting men.

In wartime the Enemy is inflated to satanic proportions. He is everywhere, he is an evil genius, he has limitless goals, he seeks world conquest, he wants to extinguish our freedoms (and everyone else’s). And of course he is quite capable of achieving all this. It must be flattering to have such preternatural powers ascribed to you.

It follows that our own leaders are wise, courageous, heroic men, fighting for the principles of freedom. They possess knowledge we don’t have, and we must obey them without question, for they know what they are doing. We are in no position to criticize them; besides, it would be unpatriotic to do so, since it would weaken morale and help the Enemy. In order to help our leaders protect us and our freedoms, we must put the government above ourselves, even when it abridges the freedoms it is trying to save.

Writing in the New York Post, Frederick U. Dicker, who holds a master’s degree in American history, assails Martin Scorsese’s new film, Gangs of New York, for its “anti-American” view of New York City during the Lincoln administration. He says the movie “demeans Lincoln’s efforts to save the nation, mocks the Union Army, sneers at volunteer soldiers, derides native-born New Yorkers, pours scorn on firefighters and police officers, and fails to find a single person of quality among all New York City’s leaders, circa 1863.”

Worse yet, and somehow related to all this, is the fact that Scorsese has recently denounced, on BBC radio, President Bush’s plan to make war on Iraq. He says the real purpose of the war is “the oil.”

[Breaker quote: War and imaginary monsters]Thus Scorsese, as both film director and Hollywood celebrity, is, in Dicker’s view, “anti-American.” He has joined the Enemy.

As Dicker sees it, “America today is the nation that is leading the fight against world terrorism, rooting out the vicious cells that would destroy our freedoms, paying back the butchers of 9/11, and taking on the outlaw nations who invade their neighbors, gas their citizens, and would, if they could, enslave the world.”

Whose view of the world is more simple-minded: Scorsese’s or Dicker’s?

Just how can “vicious cells” of terrorists possibly “destroy our freedoms”? Since 9/11 we have seen new restrictions on our freedoms; but they have been imposed not by the terrorists, but by our own “leaders.” Terrorists can disrupt; they can’t conquer. Their very choice of terrorism as a method shows that they have neither the ambition nor the means to rule us. If they have a coherent purpose, it may be to drive us out of their world.

By “outlaw nations” who “would, if they could, enslave the world,” Dicker presumably means Iraq. But Iraq is in no condition to invade even its feeblest neighbors. Its army is reportedly a mere shell of its former self, when it had no more than regional aims of conquest. Its battered economy is often compared to that of South Carolina.

To say that Iraq aspires to “enslave the world” is a bit like saying that Jack the Ripper wanted to be king of England. This is not to defend Jack the Ripper; it is to define him. Scotland Yard ruled out political motives pretty early in the case. Bad people are always bad in specific ways. Even Stalin seemed sincerely fond of children.

Dicker’s piece illustrates the way war can unhinge otherwise sensible people. He has always been a perfectly good reporter on state politics in New York, but now he has gone cosmic, with embarrassing results.

In wartime, the loosest lips are those of people trying to be patriotic. Nothing is sillier than old wartime propaganda, as any number of World War II films will attest. In fact those films were still being produced long after the war ended, the silliest being The Boys from Brazil, wherein the world is threatened by bratty little boys cloned from Hitler. The Enemy had finally become a sci-fi monster. Personally, I thought he might have been stopped early by some preemptive spanking.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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